In the fitness world, you will often hear terms like muscle confusion and tricking the bod. These phrases shouldn’t be taken literally, because to be frank – muscles don’t get confused and the body is too smart to be “tricked.”
Muscle confusion, by definition, is a training concept that involves frequent changes to your workout routine. The goal of muscle confusion is to avoid hitting a plateau during strength training cycles. What the terms muscle confusion and tricking the body really mean is that the body responds to new things that are introduced to it. In other words, the human body – muscles and all – respond or react to change.
VARIABLES ARE YOUR FRIEND
In general, your body will not respond to something it has gotten used to. You can only do so much cardio or eat the same macros for a certain period of time before your body adapts and stops responding. This is also known as hitting the dreaded plateau. Think about recreational athletes who run all the time. I know quite a few people who were carrying between 20-50 extra pounds and started running to lose weight, but hadn’t changed their diet or incorporated strength training into their routine.
Guess what happened? They lost the weight, but only initially. Then every single one of them either stopped losing weight, started to gain a little weight or got a little flabby. Their bodies stopped responding the way they initially did when they started running because their bodies adjusted to the activity and stopped responding.
Variables are your friend. Variables allow us to introduce new things to the body once it has reached a plateau. To a certain point, speaking from a body re-composition aspect, you want to maintain a level of consistency with strength training, cardio and nutrition. But there are other aspects that you need to manipulate and change in order reach your goals. This is why things like carb cycling can be effective, as well as frequently changing your workout routine.
SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
If you are prepping for a competition, or you are trying get in shape for some other event, you want to incorporate as many variables as you can in order to can give yourself some wiggle room, or plenty of variables to manipulate – especially if you are preparing for an event. The more variables you have to manipulate, the more opportunities you have for your body to potentially react.
For example, if you start a 12-week competition prep already doing 50 minutes of cardio six days a week while are eating 1,200 calories with very little carbs, you are giving yourself absolutely no place to go – because you have little to no variables to manipulate and your body is adapting to the deficit.
If, on the other hand, you start a 12-week competition prep at 1,800 calories, eating a healthy amount of carbs (say a 40/40/20 split), and you are only doing 20-30 minutes of cardio 4 days per week, you have given yourself a lot of variables to play with as your prep progresses, so that your body will respond to any changes introduced, reduced or taken out completely.
If you watch Nicole’s video – Off Season Foods vs Prep Foods: What’s In and What’s Out – you can see an example of how she changes her food sources during competition prep in order for her body to respond more favorably to leaning out in preparation for a competition.
MORE THAN MUSCLE CONFUSION
Unless you are specifically trying to increase or decrease muscle or strength in certain areas, or if you have an injury and need to avoid specific muscle groups, I feel it is best to always strength-train every body part at least once per week. Eventually (6-8 weeks on the same program, for most) your body will adapt to your program, so there a number of ways you can switch your workouts up to keep it guessing and responding. A few of those are, most of which can be done every week to keep things interesting are:
• Changing your body part split
• Changing exercises
• Switching up your rep ranges
• Changing the total number of sets per body part
• Reducing rest periods
• Incorporating intensity techniques (supersets, drop sets, rest/pause, negatives, time under tension training)
The benefits to changing your exercise routine go beyond muscle confusion and breaking through plateaus. The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is that you build well-rounded, overall strength throughout your entire body. Utilizing all types of exercise equipment, all types of body part splits will give your entire body every opportunity to take turns working with different muscle groups together, utilizing stabilization, strength, power, hypertrophy, etc. Here’s an example of the different ways you can split up your chest workouts:
• Push Workout (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
• Upper Body Workout
By adding a wide-variety of workouts to your ongoing routine over the long haul, you will gain strength and stabilization, minimize muscular imbalances and reap many more health and fitness benefits than by sticking to the same exercises, equipment and techniques. Your body can only react to something new for so long until it inevitably adapts – remember, the body is always trying to maintain homeostasis, or seeking to maintain internal balance even when faced with external changes.
Here are a few ways you can be consistent with your fitness lifestyle but change some of the variables to get your body to respond. Most importantly – the key word here is consistent. If you aren’t consistent, then no amount of changes or tweaks are going to help you reach your goal.
• Eat healthy foods, but experiment with slight changes in macronutrient ratios. For example you can try the method of reverse dieting.
Related: Reverse Dieting 101: A Guide To Staying Lean
• Get to the gym and strength train every muscle group at least once a week every week. When you find your progress stalling, it’s probably time to change your body part splits, change the weight you use, reps, sets and tempo during your workouts.
• Do cardio, but try to cut back on your cardio sessions, duration and intensity while you are going through a muscle building phase. That way, when the time comes for a leaning out phase, your body will be more responsive to longer, more frequent and more intense cardio sessions.
Tip Me Tuesday: Muscles Matter Most
Tip Me Tuesday: Gaining vs Losing
Tip Me Tuesday: How To Work Out Better
Tip Me Tuesday: Become A Dieting Expert
Tip Me Tuesday: Trust The Process – And Your Trainer!
Tip Me Tuesday: Your Village Is The Key To A Healthy, Fit Body
Tip Me Tuesday: It’s Not Always About The Calorie Burn
Tip Me Tuesday: It’s Not Always About The Calorie Burn
ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.